Willie Bradford has strong, defined features: large hands, broad shoulders, a tall body, a deep voice and a big smile. When Bradford speaks, his words trail out softly. He smiles a lot and laughs often, alluding to a calm, collected sense of spirit that he has found over the course of 56 years of life.
“It feels good when you have peace in your life,” Bradford says. “We all have problems but I never give up on hope. That’s one of my things: never give up on hope for nothing.”
Three elements that truly drive Bradford’s existence are spirituality, sports and community, which tend to overlap.
He finds community through his customers and sometimes exchanges spiritual literature for the newspaper with his more religious customers. “That’s a fun thing because I like to read,” says Bradford. Mostly, though, Bradford’s approach to community involves getting the message of as many Street Roots into the community as possible.
“The vendors get the newspaper, we give it out, we have to give it away. And that’s good for the community, especially because it helps a lot of homeless people have hope — the ones that really want to do something for themselves as a way out. Street Roots will help you if you want to help yourself. It’s a very good paper.”
After growing up in Chicago, Bradford moved to the Pacific Northwest to play a few seasons of basketball at Washington State University. He has umpired baseball, works out often, and likes to bowl. He says he keeps his mind sharp by playing a lot of chess. Bradford, married with three grown sons, says he would like to coach basketball some day and has a dream of going back to school to become a physical education teacher. Until then, he is considering taking a few classes to improve his computer skills.
Thanks in part to Northwest Pilot Project, and “by the grace of God,” Bradford is back in housing after a period of homelessness. The newspaper helps him supplement his rent payments. “I really wanted to sell the newspaper because I really like to work. I like relating to people. It’s really a good thing for me.”
Bradford can be found most days selling near Voodoo Donuts on Southwest Second Avenue. Stop by and say hello.